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Microsoft Ditching Clutter with New Office 365 Improvements

Microsoft is adding a few improvements to its Office applications and changing how Outlook prioritizes e-mails for end users.

Outlook clients are getting two enhancements. One of them is a quicker way to add recipients to e-mail chains called "@mentions." The other is a Clutter feature replacement called "Focused Inbox."

The Death of Clutter
Microsoft plans to get rid of its Clutter e-mail prioritization feature that works with Outlook client applications, replacing it with Focused Inbox, the company announced this week. Focused Inbox isn't exactly new, as it's currently being used by Android and iOS Outlook users, according to the announcement. However, Focused Inbox takes a different approach to sorting low-priority e-mails compared with Clutter.

Focused Inbox uses a tab system, with "Focused" and "Other" tabs. Low-priority e-mails get placed in the Other location. In contrast, Clutter sends low-priority e-mails to a completely separate "Clutter" folder.

Clutter had some issues, and the separate folder approach was problematic for some organizations, according to Microsoft MVP Paul Cunningham, in a blog post:

Clutter did not work particularly well for people who had complex inbox rules already in place to manage their email, or who did not receive enough email for the Clutter algorithms to learn what to do with it. For businesses, the sudden disappearance of email into a separate folder caused some support issues, with administrators having to seek out the administrative controls for Clutter after the CEO's important company-wide email didn't get read by half the employees.

Microsoft is using the same machine-learning algorithms to power Focused Inbox's sorting behavior as it did with Clutter, but the user interface is different. Microsoft's announcement described Focused Inbox as a Clutter "refinement and improvement."

When the Focused Inbox feature gets rolled out, Clutter users will see messages that are currently stored in the Clutter folder move over to the Other tab, Microsoft promised.

Focused Inbox will be arriving for Outlook.com users this week. It'll start to appear in September for Office 365 "First Release" program participants. All Outlook clients will eventually lose Clutter and get Focused Inbox instead. However, there will be an opt-in process for end users to start using Focused Inbox, which will appear in the form of an Outlook prompt, Microsoft's announcement indicated. In addition, users can turn off Focused Inbox at any time.

IT pros will get some controls over Focused Inbox as well, according to the announcement:

Office 365 admins can manage the rollout of Focused Inbox for their users with tenant and mailbox level controls using PowerShell. More details for admins will become available in August via the Office 365 Message Center, prior to Office 365 First Release customers being enabled for Focused Inbox in September.

September is also the time Microsoft plans to transition Outlook infrastructure support for its Android and iOS clients from Amazon Web Services to Azure datacenters, Cunningham noted. That move will eliminate a data caching step that was needed to run Focused Inbox on AWS infrastructure, he explained, adding that the move also is being done to stay compliant with Microsoft Trust Center principles for Office 365 services.

Outlook @Mentions Feature
Outlook clients also have, or will be getting, the @mentions feature. It's a Twitter-like tagging capability to add users to an e-mail discussion. Users simply type the @ symbol in a message and they'll get a list of names with the next letter typed. Recipients that have been tagged in this way will see their e-mail name in a blue highlight color, so they'll know they've been added to a thread.

The @mentions feature is currently available for Outlook on the Web (Outlook Web App) users. It's also available to Office Insider test program participants. It will be available "soon" for Android, iOS and Windows 10 Mobile Outlook users, Microsoft promised.

Microsoft clarified that the @mentions feature will be available "regardless of the type of mailbox or email service you are using in Outlook." However the recipient experience (such as the blue highlight) will just be available for Outlook.com and Office 365 accounts. Other e-mail services, such as Gmail and Yahoo, will get the recipient capabilities "later this year," Microsoft indicated.

Office 365 App Improvements
Microsoft also announced Office application improvements arriving for its Office 365 subscribers, including new Word and PowerPoint features.

Microsoft is claiming that Word will be getting more sophisticated with its writing improvement suggestions. For instance, a new Editor "advanced proofing and editing service" will be coming this fall that will recommend replacement text. Users also will get new visual indicators in Word. For instance, the spell checker will flag questionable text with "red squiggles" in a document. Possible grammar issues will be highlighted in "blue squiggles." Style issues will get a "gold dotted line." There will be more verbose tips about why the text might not be the best.

Word also has a new Researcher citation tool for people writing footnoted research papers. Microsoft claims it will add a properly formatted citation "in one click." It uses the Bing Knowledge Graph to pull such content from the Web, using sources such as "national science and health centers, well-known encyclopedias, history databases and more." The Researcher capability is currently available for "Office 365 subscribers using Word 2016 on Windows desktops," Microsoft's announcement indicated.

PowerPoint has a new slide navigation capability called "Zoom." It will create a "Summary Zoom" for presentations that have dedicated sections. Alternatively, it can make a "Slide Zoom" for presentations with just a few slides. These Zooms can be used by a presenter to jump around, enabling more "non-linear presentations" to audiences. The Zoom capability is at the test stage right now. It's available to "Office Insiders using PowerPoint 2016 on Windows desktops," Microsoft clarified.

In other Office 365 news, Microsoft this week published Office 365 security posters designed to aid enterprise architects. The posters outline security responsibilities based on the type of service used, from SaaS to on-premises servers.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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